Some Thoughts About Drying Herbs

When I first started my herbal journey, for some reason I thought harvesting and drying my own herbs would be terribly complicated. Maybe this had something to do with growing up in a family where dried up shriveled things were tossed straight into the trashcan, considered completely unsuitable for human consumption. Dried herbs are definitely dried up and shriveled!

I also thought you had to have special equipment and string your plants up in just the right way so that your herbs would dry properly. I didn’t want to end up with a bunch of dried up shriveled stuff that I would have to throw out, so for a long time I just didn’t go there. Instead, I bought all my dried herbs.

Then recently I happened to see Phyllis Light in a video calmly talking about bringing in a branch of some herb she had picked and left on the kitchen table for a couple of days to dry. She picked up what looked to me like something for the compost pile, crumbled a few leaves between her fingers, and declared it as having “dried nicely” and that it was ready to use as a tea.

Wow, what an epiphany for me. Huh? That’s all there is to it? Hey, I could do that!

And so began my first drying experiments.

I’ve learned that in some cases, with especially juicy plants, you do have to be careful so that you don’t get mold or fermenting going on, but really even that is not nearly so complicated as I thought it would be.

Most herbs really can just be laid somewhere convenient on the kitchen table or counter for a couple days and they dry beautifully, keeping their fragrance and color. As soon as you detach an herb from the living plant, the dehydration begins. As long as you keep it out of especially humid places and give it lots of circulating air, it will dry just fine with no other effort.

Here’s some plantain I dried in just that way.

[Plantain photo here]

Some flowers and plants may need a little more help because of high moisture content. For example, red clover blossoms can ferment if the moisture in them evaporates too slowly, causing them to develop potentially dangerous blood thinning properties.

The answer for these is to dry them more quickly by putting them in a hotter environment with lots and lots of air circulation. To accomplish this, I’ve heard of some using the oven set on a low temp, turning them frequently, or hanging their herbs to dry in a hot attic with good air flow, even using fans if it is too humid.

You can also use a dehydrator. I was recently gifted one of these handy little contraptions, and I have to say it is a totally awesome tool. Mine has seven trays that you can fill and stack to dry quite a bit of herb all at once. Lay the herbs on the trays, flip the switch on, and just a couple hours later you have perfectly dried herbs. Then just crumble them into a quart canning jar and cap it tightly.

For the first time this year, I’m filling my cupboard with self-harvested, home-dried herbs. So far, I’ve got honeysuckle leaf and flower, tarragon, sage, rosemary. And the season is early yet, so that’s just the beginning.

What are you drying? Do you use different methods? I’d love to hear what you do 🙂


8 Responses to “Some Thoughts About Drying Herbs”

  1. Rosalee de la Foret on 01 Jun 2008 at 4:37 pm

    My husband recently made me some simple drying racks – since we live where it’s very dry we don’t use another form of heat and so far it’s worked great! I’ll post pictures of them on my blog soon.

    But as you know I am a little behind on blogging somebody tagged me, which I haven’t gotten to yet…

  2. Blake on 01 Jun 2008 at 4:55 pm

    I’ve always done the EXACT same thing, avoided trying this out of fear of felling someone near & dear with toxic mold (or whatever).

    Must! Get! Over it. This is great get-over-it inspiration. I love the thought of your cupboards filled with jars full of herbs, already. Here in this moist climate I think I will get some small silica packets to throw in there for peace of mind, if I do this.

  3. tammy on 04 Jun 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Rosalee — I’d love to see pics of your drying racks… a future blog post?? lol

    Blake — yes! just do it! let us know how it goes. I’m still amazed how easy it all is.

  4. Irene on 10 Jun 2008 at 5:06 am

    Although I am learning to be deligent about this, it helps when one spaces the herbs out on a wicker like plate so that they don’t touch. It prevents the moisture from accumulating. You can arrange them really pretty that way too!

  5. Amy on 10 Jun 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I just love my dehydrator! I started out gathering up thrift store finds-5 bucks here and there. I had all the round ones with the little trays? Then, I saved up and bought an Excalibur. It ROCKS! I make yogurt and everything with it. My favorite thing about it is that you can just have no heat/just fan. Then my herbs get all crispy dry without any heat. Very nice.

    I am drying Nettles like mad right now. That and still finding dandelion blooming from my diligent picking of the flowers all spring.

    Great blog!!



  6. tammy on 14 Jun 2008 at 11:49 am

    Amy, Excalibur sounds like something I want to look into!

    I hadn’t thought of wicker plates, Irene. I bet that is pretty. I love the idea of using herbs for decoration while they are drying.

  7. herbal remedy on 17 Jun 2008 at 11:26 am

    Hi Tammy, this is a very interesting site. I’m an herbal enthusiast and some input on handling herbs is something I dig. I probably should get myself a dehydrator. Well, good luck on your inventions with herbals. – gary

  8. Brian on 23 Jun 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Hey folks!

    All this talk about dehydrators is interesting, but you’re right; all of you that say you don’t need one… I’m in Columbus Ohio, USA (I thought I should mention that, since I suspect all of you are in Great Britain–why I suspect that I can’t say: I just do! No, wait, that’s not true. Someone mentioned “letuca scariola”. I understand–please correct me if I’m wrong–but that plant only grows in Europe. When I looked it up on the web, all I heard about was Americans smoking it! I was annoyed. Their premise was that lettuce is legal; so why not abuse it! I’m about using what God has given us for wholesome purposes–not to waste our lives. So that’s why I suspect you’re in Europe. I don’t know if letuca scariola grows naturally in my part of the world.)

    Anyway, about dehydrating…

    Any circumstance that allows moisture to be drawn from the plant and removed from it is dehydrating the plant. Fermentation occurs when the plant is allowed to retain its’ moisture too long. That’s why the relation between airflow and temperature is so important. I was either blessed or cursed–I can’t decide which–with a sister that thought she was an American Indian at heart. Why that was I’ll never know, since she’s passed on, and I’ve learned that we’ve been Scotish back to the 1500’s! But I learned from her to respect native American ways; and I’ve learned from Tom Brown’s book, “A guide to wilderness survival” that the key to dehydrating–along with any other thing you need–is to manipulate it!

    You don’t need a machine to do this. If you’re anywhere there is sunshine, or anywhere there is wind, you can dehydrate things you’ve removed from the ground. You’re even further ahead if you’ve got a sizeable piece of metal at hand. You can make a box that will create the required heat inside, if it’s placed in a full sun.

    I’ve got my first complete dandelion plant on my kitchen counter right now. It’s gotta be dried, and ready to be made into tea and coffee. It’s been there for nigh until three weeks: the root is probably too thin to make a decent pot of anything, but it’ll be my first try. Yeah me! hehehe

    About 6 weeks ago, I pulled up a bushel of creeping charlie and hung it up in a cotton bag in my shed… I’m now wondering what to do with it. My mom says to burn it; but I believe it has medicinal properties as well as edible ones. I need to act quickly though, as the creeping charlie is creeping back! I may have another harvest pretty soon!

    I’d appreciate any advice you have on what to do with these plants.


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